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North America, United States, Alaska, Denali National Park and Preserve Mountaineering Summary

Denali National Park and Preserve Mountaineering Summary, 1994. For the third consecutive year, a new record has been set for the number of mountaineers venturing up Mount McKinley. A multitude of 1277 climbers attempted the mountain during the 1994 season with 575 (45%) of them reaching the summit. This year was also a tragic reminder of the 1992 season because of severe weather and the margin of safety above 14,000 feet. Fierce weather in May caused most of the accidents, resulting in three deaths and many rescues on McKinley. The climbing season concluded with a total of seven fatalities and 20 separate rescues in the park. These accidents consisted of falls, cold injuries and high-altitude illnesses. Illegal guiding was again an issue in Denali National Park with the Park Service taking legal action against numerous illegal guides. Two men attempting to guide illegally on McKinley deserve special mention. One American guide was fined $500 and not permitted for three years to enter an Alaskan national park without prior notice to rangers. A German guide was turned over to the Federal Immigration and Naturalization Service. He was arrested, spent the night in jail and was deported to Germany. Regardless of nationality, guides not employed by Denali National Park licensed concessions and bringing clients to McKinley or Foraker are breaking federal law when they do so. Rangers will continue aggressively to enforce guiding regulations.

New Regulations. Beginning in 1995, climbers on McKinley and Foraker will be charged a mountaineering program fee of $150 per climber. This will offset mountaineering administrative costs such as maintaining the high-altitude ranger station at 14,200 feet on the West Buttress route, mountaineering salaries, educational materials directed at reducing the number of accidents, transportation and supplies. Climbers for McKinley and Foraker will be required to register a minimum of 60 days in advance. By requiring advance registration, the Denali mountaineering staff can provide information to prospective mountaineers on hazards, and how to prepare, equip and schedule their expeditions. It also provides time to discuss requirements concerning resource issues such as littering and human-waste disposal. Information packets containing new regulations, new registration forms and fee payment procedures are available by contacting the Talkeetna Ranger Station.

Statistics. In 1994, 1277 climbers in 303 expeditions attempted seven different routes on McKinley, an increase of 15% over 1993. International climbers (570) from 21 countries were 45% of the total. The United States had the most climbers at 707, England 74, Switzerland 58, Germany 51, Japan 51, Korea 50, Spain 27, France 27. The West Buttress route saw 1067 climbers, 83% of all traffic. The West Rib had 68 climbers attempting the upper section from the 14,200-foot basin, while only 36 started the complete route from the northeast fork of the Kahiltna Glacier. The Muldrow Glacier had 50 climbers attempting McKinley from the north. The South Buttress was chosen by 23, a significant increase compared to the past four years. There were 302 guided clients and 16 solo climbers. The longest expedition lasted 36 days; the average was 18 days.

Rescues. Twenty major search-and-rescue missions were conducted this year, involving 31 climbers. Fourteen of the 31 climbers (45%) needing rescue were foreign. Overall, 2% of the climbers attempting McKinley required rescue.

Medical. The 14,200-foot ranger station, staffed both by Volunteers-in-the-Park (VIPs) and mountaineering rangers, treated 45 climbers afflicted with frostbite, AMS, HAPE and HACE. Frostbite: 30 climbers were treated for some degree of frostbite. Of these, 21 were superficial and 9 were more severe and involved some tissue loss. Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS): 93 climbers reported symptoms of AMS; 66 were mild or moderate cases; 27 were afflicted with High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE) or High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE).

Safety. Mountaineering rangers, guides and climbers are increasingly concerned about the impact of over 1000 climbers annually using the West Buttress route. The impact of human waste and trash is significant to health and safety. A great safety concern is the fact that over 90 climbers at one time were ascending the headwall fixed lines above 14,200 feet. Overcrowding is also a serious issue at the 16,200-foot camp, which often commits unacclimatized groups to ascend to the higher camp.

New Routes and Notable Ascents. Mount Hunter was busy this year with 22 expeditions attempting the mountain. There were two major accidents with two fatalities and four were seriously injured. Impressive new routes on Hunter and elsewhere are covered either in complete articles or in reports given below.

Accidents. Fall, fatalities in the Ruth Gorge: On April 24, Walker Parke and Todd McCann fell 1100 feet while descending from the northeast ridge of Mount Wake above the Ruth Gorge. Parke, McCann and Michele Morseth took one day to climb 1800 feet to their first camp at 5600 feet. The next morning, they decided to abandon their climb because of poor snow conditions. At the bottom of their second rappel, Parke lost his balance and fell 20 feet into McCann, who was setting up an anchor but was not clipped in. The two climbers fell together to the bottom of the couloir. Morseth was directly across from McCann and witnessed the sequence of events. McCann had multiple traumatic injuries but was still alive. Parke was killed instantly from multiple trauma. Jack Tackle and Bill Belcourt were near the scene and heard McCann’s call for help. They administered emergency care and began evacuating him. He died during the evacuation. Meanwhile, Morseth retrieved the ropes and descended the difficult terrain alone. Tackle and Belcourt returned to assist Morseth back to their camp. Avalanche, Fall and Assisted Evacuation on Mount Hunter: On May 5, Andy Carson and Charles Crago were injured when they were swept down 800 feet in an avalanche while climbing the northwest-basin variation route on the west ridge of Hunter. Carson suffered bilateral tibia fractures, and Crago, chest injuries. They were evacuated off the mountain by other climbers in the area. A fixed-wing aircraft flew them to an Anchorage hospital. AMC/HACE, Helicopter Evacuation: On May 13, Italian Mautenzio Fasano became hypoxic at 16,200 feet. He was lowered by his expedition to the ranger station at 14,200 feet and treated by a doctor. He was diagnosed as suffering from AMS and HACE and flown by the NPS Lama helicopter to the 7200-foot Kahiltna Base Camp and then transported by fixed-wing aircraft to an Anchorage hospital. Frostbite, HACE, Fall from Denali Pass, Helicopter Evacuation: On May 14, Pauline Brandon and Richard Tyler were on their descent from McKinley when they both fell from 18,000 feet below Denali Pass on the West Buttress. They came to a stop at 17,200 feet, where they lay unconscious. Some time later, on May 15, Tyler regained consciousness. He found he had frozen fingers and was unable to walk. He attempted unsuccessfully to make verbal contact with Brandon. Climbers nearby spotted the pair and provided assistance. Tyler was evacuated by the NPS helicopter to the Kahiltna Base Camp and flown to the Alaska Regional Hospital by the Alaska Air National Guard. He lost all fingers on both hands. Brandon’s body was evacuated on May 15. An autopsy listed the cause of death as hypothermia with an underlying diagnosis of cerebral edema. Seizures, Helicopter Evacuation: On May 16, John Merrigan was climbing the West Buttress when he began to experience grand mal seizures at 7800 feet on the Kahiltna Glacier. He was evacuated by an Alaska Air National Guard helicopter. Storm, Assisted Evacuation on the West Rib: On May 17, an intense wind storm demolished the 17,700-foot camp on the West Rib of a Mountain Trip guided party led by licensed guide Rodrigo Mujica. The wind speed during the storm was estimated at 100+ miles per hour. Mujica radioed the ranger station, requesting a rescue. A rescue team attempted to wand a route from 14,200 feet but was forced back by high wind and heavy snow. The rescue team reached the Mujica party at 15,900 feet on the West Rib when the weather allowed. Mujica was credited with saving his clients and no one was injured. Call for Rescue, Self-Evacuation: On May 19, an Italian party radioed the 14,200-foot ranger station, requesting a rescue. A brief and intense storm had blown away their tents and climbing gear. The Italians were above the ice arête at 15,000 feet on the Cassin Ridge. The Park Service attempted to reach the party but were delayed by high winds. The Park Service used the helicopter to perform a cargo letdown, which provided the Italians with climbing and survival gear. They then descended the route on their own. Hypothermia, Helicopter Evacuation: On May 19, Germans Paul Laeremans and Ingrid Baeyens required rescue while descending the West Buttress route near Windy Corner. In extremely bad weather, they became hypothermic. The NPS helicopter rescued them from 12,500 feet and transported them to the Kahiltna Base Camp. Storm, Hypothermia, Body Recovery: On May 22, Koreans Lee Sang-Myeung and NPS Volunteer Kim Kee-Won left 14,200 feet to climb a headwall 500 yards west of the fixed lines on the standard West Buttress route. They completed the technically moderate 2000-foot route in 11 hours but finished in severe weather conditions. Concern for their safety prompted the NPS to organize a search team. They discovered Lee’s body clipped to the fixed lines at 15,900 feet. After three further hours of futile search in whiteout conditions, the search for Kim was suspended. The team descended to 14,200 feet with Lee’s body. The search continued with a helicopter and a ground party for three more days. On May 25, a guide radioed from 16,100 feet, reporting that Kim’s body had been found hanging in a rock band. Kim’s body was recovered by the rescue team. Autopsies revealed that both died from exposure. HACE, Helicopter Evacuation: On May 24, Japanese Shuji Yoshida was stricken by HACE that left him unconscious at the 11,200-foot camp on the West Buttress. He was rescued by the NPS helicopter. He was stricken quickly and severely despite the relatively low altitude. Hypoxia from poor ventilation in his tent may have been a contributing factor. Broken Hip, Helicopter Evacuation: On May 29, François Verhoeven broke his hip in a short fall at 16,500 feet on the West Buttress. He was able to descend to the 14,200-foot ranger station from which he was evacuated by the NPS helicopter. Crevasse Fall, Helicopter Evacuation: On May 30, Pat Liske injured his chest when he fell into a crevasse at 13,600 feet while descending the West Buttress. He was evacuated the next day by NPS helicopter. Acute AMS, Assisted Self-Evacuation: On June 1, Bennett Austin developed a case of AMS while climbing between 19,000 and 19,500 feet on the West Rib. His party was advised to administer Decadron and to descend immediately. They climbed up to the Football Field and attempted to make hot drinks and to eat, before deciding to keep moving. They started descending the West Buttress route and were met by three NPS volunteers at 17,700 feet. Austin was evaluated at the 17,000-foot camp. After six hours of rest and rehydration, the party descended to 14,200 feet, where Austin made a full recovery. Fall, Fatalities on Mount Hunter: On June 10, Patti Saurman and Chris Walburgh died and David Saurman and Don Sharaf were injured in a 1700-foot fall from the southwest ridge of Hunter. Avalanche conditions and poor slope stability contributed to the accident. D. Saurman and Sharaf were rescued by park rangers and flown to the hospital in Anchorage. The bodies were recovered the next day. HAPE, Helicopter Evacuation: On the evening of June 11, Japanese Kazuo Fukase developed a severe case of HAPE at 17,200 feet. His party received instructions for medical treatment by CB radio. Using oxygen from the 17,200-foot NPS rescue cache and injectable Decadron administered by a climber/doctor on the scene, Fukase’s condition stabilized by morning when the non-ambulatory patient was evacuated by NPS helicopter. Hypothermia, Frostbite, Assisted Descent, Helicopter Evacuation: Victor Pomerantsev departed on June 12 for a solo ascent of the West Buttress and reached 16,200 feet on June 16. A strong storm blew in over the evening, burying him. Two climbers, John Grieve and Bill Ross, discovered him outside of his tent, suffering from severe hypothermia and with frostbite on all ten fingers. They provided assistance for six days of stormy weather until they could bring him down on the 22nd to 14,200 feet. During this time, the NPS attempted in vain to reach their camp by ground and by helicopter. Pomerantsev was flown off by helicopter. He suffered significant tissue loss. Chest Pain, Helicopter Evacuation: On June 23, Jim Pitr developed chest pains after climbing to the 17,200-foot camp on the West Buttress. Undiagnosed chest pains prompted his evacuation from 17,200 feet. He was flown to Anchorage, where he was diagnosed with HAPE.

Note: To request mountaineering information and forms for registration, please contact the Talkeetna Ranger Station, PO Box 588, Talkeetna, Alaska 99676. Telephone: 907-733-2231. Fax: 907-733-1465.

J.D. Swed, South District Ranger, Denali National Park and Preserve

DENALI NATIONAL PARK AND PRESERVE 1994 MOUNTAINEERING SUMMARY

Mountain/Route

Expeditions

Climbers

Summit



West Buttress

247

1067

493



West Rib

31

106

40



Cassin Ridge

6

14

2



Muldrow Glacier

6

33

18



Muldrow Glacier Traverse

4

17

7



W. Buttress Traverse

4

23

0



South Buttress

4

17

6



N.W. Buttress

0

0

0



American Direct

2

9

4



Ridge of No Return

1

3

3



East Buttress

1

8

0



Total McKinley

303

1277

575



Mt. Foraker

14

36

0



*Mt. Hunter

14

37

14



*Mt. Huntington

1

2

0



*Mooses Tooth

5

20

4



*Other Mountains

8

21

12



*These records represent the number of climbers who registered to climb in these areas. Since registration is required only on Mount Foraker and Mount McKinley, it is likely that other ascents occurred that are not included in these statistics.